REVIEW: BABEL by R.F Kuang
Babel is a book that has been long awaited by me. I seriously could not wait to read it, so when I saw that my wish had been granted both literally and metaphorically by Netgalley and the publishers, I leaped with joy. So let’s get into it, shall we.
This book set in the 1800’s follows a young Chinese boy, who is removed and taken by a Professor from his home country of China. This Professor is Professor Lovell and he decides that he will take this young boy back to England. The young boy decides his name for himself in those moments and as such he becomes known as Robin Swift. Robin was saved, for lack of a better word, from the Cholera outbreak in which he lost all of his family by Professor Lovell who has now given him a second chance at life.
Once in England, Robin Swift is treated well by Professor Lovell though sometimes they disagree with each other. In exchange for his lodging however, Robin must study and hopefully attend Oxford’s Royal Institute of Translation. He must put in the work by learning multiple languages including keeping up his native language, Canton and English but now he must learn Latin and Greek in order to get in. This is the entire reason why Professor Lovell brought him to England and he must not fail.
Years pass and he is eventually accepted to Oxford and we are finally introduced to our namesake. Babel. Babel is what the Translation institute is known as and all of the students that study there are called Bablers. In Oxford, he starts to learn the art of translation along with his peers, many of whom are just like him, not from around here. But when he eventually meets a rebel group known as the Hermes Society he begins to question what he is doing and why he is really here in Oxford.
By meeting this rebel group, he realises that they have been brought over from other countries to maintain Britain’s empire so that they can trade with other big nations and as such needs foreigners to learn English as well as their native language. Babel runs on the knowledge that the students will eventually become these powerful translators that will help the nation and as such starts to prepare them to become that. Though Robin does enjoy his time at Babel, he is often met with racism because the outer world does not like him being where he is.
As more chaos ensues with the rebel group, the Hermes Society, Robin begins to help them on their mission to defund Britain and the Empire. All of the silver comes into the country by trading and that is the sole mission of Babel is to train translators so that the empire can trade. So the Hermes society primarily targets Babel because of this. As his studying continues, Robin begins to question the colonial machine that is known as the Empire and begins to form his own thoughts about what should occur rather than following the rules and opinions of others.
Babel is a dark academic book and as such follows the rules of the genre. This is something that I found pleasing because, this being my first Dark Academia read so I thoroughly enjoyed it. This book tackles hard topics such as racism, colonialism and gender and it did not beat around the bush with these topics. It hit them head on and was ready to talk about them. These characters realise that in order to make change, you have to actually be the change. That sounds really corny but it’s true. I actually went to the signing for Babel in London and one of the things that R.F Kuang talked about is the fact that violence may not be the answer for everything but it does help bring the other side to the table by shocking them.
I loved this book just as much as I loved the Poppy War series because I love them both in different ways. The Poppy War series is more sci-fi fantasy but since this is Dark Academia, it really got to me. R.F Kuang’s writing and the way she talks about language makes me truly believe that it is something that she is passionate about and has a true and deep love for it.
R.F Kuang was also a delight to meet and when I met her I talked about reading Babel on an E-reader, to which she apologised because obviously though this book is long, it was missing the key features that the physical book did not have, and that was the footnotes. The footnotes play a role throughout this book and even at one point, the footnote is the only thing in a chapter. So bless her heart for even saying that to me. It was something that I really did feel like I missed out on the e-arc version but even that little interaction made up for it.
I seriously loved this book. 5 out of 5 stars.